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LOOKING FOR A LADY WITH FANGS AND A MUSTACHE (2021) review

April 8, 2021

 

written by: Khyentse Norbu
produced by: Max Dispesh Khatri and Rabindra Singh Beniya
directed by: Khyentse Norbu
rated: not rated
runtime: 113 min.
U.S. release date: April 9, 2021 (virtual) April 16, 2021 (Music Box Theatre, Chicago, IL)

 

“Looking for a Lady with Fangs and a Mustache” certainly has an attention-grabber of a title and sometimes watching a film solely because of its title proves to be surprising and rewarding. Such is the case with Bhutanese writer/director Khyentse Norbu’s latest film, which presents a story in which its protagonist unexpectedly embarks on a journey that finds him questioning not just himself, but also his senses and his dreams, especially when he begins to second guess both of them. It’s a visually tantalizing film, offering an engaging and unpredictable story with rich characters and a striking sense of wonder, as well as subtle sense of humor. As it unravels at its own pace, “Looking for a Lady with Fangs and a Mustache” offers much to contemplate, before and after viewing.

Set in modern-day Kathmandu, Nepal, where we meet Tenzin (Tsering Tashi Gyalthang) an ambitious entrepreneur determined to open up the area’s first “European Style” cafe. In looking for the right location, Tenzin finds an old temple in Godawari that has long been abandoned after an earthquake and snaps photographs of its ancient sacred art, despite the concern of his business partner, Rabindra (Rabindra Singh Baniya, who also serves as co-producer), who believes the place to be “the Womb of the Goddess” and encourages they find a different location. A skeptic atheist, Tenzin disregards such concerns but later that day he shares a recent dream he’s had with his close friend Jachung (Tulku Kungzang), during a music lesson. Jachung, a devoted Buddhist and motivated by the traditions of the past, is convinced his recent dreams are about death.

 

 

Tenzin doesn’t share with Jachung the sudden vision he has of a girl humming a haunting tune in a poppy field while there, but it will be the first of many visions that will plague him. He continues to practice a Dramyin (a traditional Himalayan lute) folk song beloved by Tenzin’s mother with Jachung and Kunsel (Tenzin Kunsel), a musician friend and infatuation of Jachung’s, while continuing to search for prospective cafe locations. Tenzin’s dreams continue (at times, they include his long-dead sister) or maybe they aren’t dreams and more like daytime visions similar in nature, all involving a young girl humming a tune.

When Tenzin shares this with Jachung, he suggests they see his monk friend, who is described as a psychic, stating these visions could all be part of a “bad omen”. At a party thrown for cafe benefactors, Jachung arrives along with his Monk Oracle (Ngawang Tenzin) – donning blue sunglasses and red headphones with an obvious addiction to his iPad – and Tenzin reluctantly agrees to a private audience with this suspicious monk. The monk asks Tenzin questions about his dreams such as what time they occurred and warns that they shouldn’t be ignored, that “even dreams have order”, and is confident that Tenzin’s dreams mean that his life force is running out. Tenzin brushes that off and continues his cafe plans, yet as his visions continue he struggles to determine what is real in life.

Knowing he is seeing things that no one else does, Tenzin decides to see the monk again, this time with an open mind and is told that he’ll die soon, next Saturday to be exact (but to aim for Sunday instead, that way nine members of his family won’t die as well), and that Tenzin better see his friends and relatives. It all seems so ludicrous, but the monk offers a solution: Tenzin has to find himself a dakini, the living embodiment of feminine energy in Buddhist teachings. The monk does a Google image search and shares with Tenzin that most of the dakinis are beautiful, but he isn’t sure exactly what Tenzin has to do once he finds a dakini.

 

 

For further assistance, the monk offers to take Tenzin to see The Master of the Left Hand Lineage (Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche), despite hearing that he’s “unpredictable and temperamental”. Unsure what to believe and with his visions becoming more frequent and alarming, a desperate Tenzin takes the offer and meets up with the elder monk. When the initial visit doesn’t go well, Tenzin tries the enlightened sage again after being told by medical professionals there is nothing wrong with him. While Tenzin becomes more open-minded, The Master confuses him but eventually shares that they are real and symbolic dakinis and the real ones are hard to find. They can be very near or very far. They can be beautiful or ugly. He suggest that Tenzin be bold in his search, that dakinis don’t trust people with inhibitions.

This perplexes Tenzin even further and as he is given specific instructions on how to find a dakini and what to do when one is found, he starts to pull away from what was important to him. Feeling distraught and hopeless, he visits his mother in the countryside, thinking it will be his last time seeing her and something happens to him on his return. He may or may not have encountered a dakini and inevitably Tenzin must determine whether this journey was an elaborate ruse or a gradual path to self-discovery and an understanding of a greater existential truth.

 

 

The experience of watching “Looking for a Lady with Fangs and a Mustache” becomes a spiritual and magical journey just as it is for the main character in the story. The flowing, graceful cinematography by Ping Bin Lee (“In the Mood for Love” and “The Assassin”) is exquisite and eye-opening, offering a Nepal that comes alive with richly vibrant colors and sounds, teeming with life. Whether the busy streets of Kathmandu are captured or the misty mountains of the countryside surrounded by lush greenery, the visuals will certainly spark an interest to discovery Nepal further. Norbu is assisted by outstanding production design and art direction with artful composition, not to mention the approach to sound that often singles out key sequences with dead silence, emphasizing something or someone that Tenzin notices. There’s even a sequence while Tenzen is simply observes his surroundings while a Tom Waits song (“Little Rain (For Clyde)” from 1992’s “Bone Machine”) can be heard, which became another unexpected moment.

It’s both baffling and fitting that Norbu used only non-professional actors in this film. Sometimes that can backfire, with the performers coming across rather unsure or forcing a character into being, but each actor here delivers a palpable authenticity in every scene, providing the film with endearing and relatable characters. It’s hard to tell if that’s due to the way in which Norbu and his crew capture them or if they all naturally understood the director’s vision. Whatever it is, they are fully realized and aligned on this patient, spiritual journey of ancient and modern Nepal.

The film’s title was admittedly the initial draw for me, finding me wondering if this would some kind of out-there horror story or a trippy surreal tale. It’s nothing like that and it’s probably unlike anything you’ve seen recently, which is all the more reason to check it out. To say anymore would be to cheat you out of experiencing this unique vision on your own. “Looking for a Lady with Fangs and a Mustache” is Norbu’s fifth feature, yet my first time watching any of his films. I’m glad to discover him and am definitely curious to see his previous work while anticipating what he will offer in the future.

 

RATING: ****

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